Georgie is an artist with a passion for painting barns, covered bridges, and sugarhouses — those idyllic, iconic symbols of Vermont. When she built her house along the Rock River in Windham County 25 years ago, she couldn’t imagine living any place other than beautiful, tranquil Vermont.

But when Tropical Storm Irene barreled into the state in August 2011 and left a path of destruction across the Rock River valley and the rest of Vermont, her sense of peace was upended.

After being stranded in her home for eight days with no communication to the outside world, Georgie wasn’t sure if she could live on the Rock River again, let alone paint. The storm, which spared her home but swallowed nearly an acre of her land, left her traumatized and uncertain about the future.

“I couldn’t paint for six months, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live near a brook after Irene,” she says. “Even now, I still can’t sleep when it rains at night.”

Celebrating a Community of Vermont Artists

Georgie is one of 17 artists who will open their homes and studios to the public during the Rock River Artists’ Open Studio Tour on July 19-20. The 22nd annual tour, which starts at the Old School House in South Newfane, is free and open to the public.

Visitors will have an opportunity to witness and hear how the community pulled together to survive after Irene. Like Georgie, several of the local artists participating in the tour couldn’t bear to work afterward, and some have changed their art form or modified their work because of the flood.

Healing from Irene and Moving Forward

In 2012, a friend took Georgie to Nantucket, where she painted for the first time after Irene.  “I had to get on a boat and face a lot of my fears. But the trip was healing,” she says. “I was able to paint on the beach, and it gave me some confidence and determination.”

As part of her recovery process, Georgie also built a studio in her Marlboro home to make a commitment to stay in her house along the Rock River.  “Since I’m a plein air artist and paint outside, I don’t really need a studio. But I thought I should do this to reestablish my authority over my fear,” she says.

Georgie’s approach to painting hasn’t changed much since Irene. The only subtle change she has noticed is that she prefers to paint on bigger canvases these days. But she still creates colorful paintings of the things she loves — barns, covered bridges, sugarhouses, architecture, and nature.

“I like painting things like barns and covered bridges because I want to preserve them. At some point they might all be gone. They’re not building many new ones,” she says.

You can find Georgie painting in a field or on the side of the road in southern Vermont between May and October. She also likes to paint as far north as Quebec City and as far south as the lower tip of the Outer Banks.

Nearly three years after Irene, she plans to keep Vermont as her home base.

“I want to paint almost everything in Vermont because it’s so pretty,” she says. “Still, when it rains at night, I ask myself, ‘Why do I stay here?’ But I have a beautiful spot, a cute house, my friends, and the Rock River Tour. I stay here because my life is here.”

**If You Go: The Rock River Artists’ Open Studio Tour is July 19-20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors can see examples of each artist’s work at the Old School House (located at the intersection of Dover and Augur Hole Roads) in South Newfane. From there you can pick up a map and visit the studios and homes where the artists draw their inspiration and work. For more information, visit www.rockriverartists.com.

Georgie was stranded at her home for eight days after Irene.
Artist Georgie was stranded at her home for eight days after Tropical Storm Irene. (courtesy photo)